Attorney General William P. Barr — who has recently faced criticism from President Trump for not prosecuting his political rivals — has told friends and advisers in recent weeks that he hopes to stay on for some time in the next term, if Trump wins the election.
The assertion from the president’s top law enforcement official might otherwise be unsurprising, if not for the public pressure Trump has put on Barr in recent months to deliver results from an investigation Barr specially commissioned to review the FBI’s 2016 probe of possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
Trump also has openly discussed with advisers firing FBI Director Christopher A. Wray after Election Day, even though Wray is only a little more than three years into what is normally a 10-year appointment. Barr has generally sought to shield Wray from Trump’s wrath, though his friends believe he would not resign in protest were the FBI director ousted, people familiar with the matter said. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically sensitive topic.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment.
Even amid the president’s attacks, the attorney general has conveyed to friends he would like to stay on the job.
“Barr told me recently he supports the president and would be inclined to stay if the president wanted him to,” said Richard Cullen, a lawyer and longtime friend of Barr who represented Vice President Pence.
It is less clear what Trump wants to do.
In August, Trump told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo that Barr “can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country, or he can go down as an average guy,” depending on the results of the investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut, into the FBI’s 2016 probe of Trump’s campaign. Trump has agitated for criminal charges or investigations for those he considers political rivals — including former FBI director James B. Comey, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and even former vice president Joe Biden, his opponent in the 2020 race.
More recently, after news reports that results from Durham’s investigation would not be made public before the election, Trump told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “I think it’s a terrible thing. And I’ll say it to [Barr’s] face.”
Trump has called publicly for his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, and declined to say whether he would want Barr around in a second term.
A person familiar with the matter said previously that while Barr understands Trump’s frustration about the Durham probe, his pressure was “not going to change anything.” Barr has said previously that Biden was not under investigation in that case. The person said that Barr wants to stay on to see the end of Durham’s work, though it is unclear how long he envisioned his tenure lasting.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
A training slideshow used by the Kentucky State Police (KSP) — the second largest police force in the state — urges cadets to be “ruthless killer[s]” and quotes Adolf Hitler advocating violence.
The slideshow was included in KSP documents obtained via an open records request by local attorney David Ward of Adams Landenwich Walton during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. Ward requested KSP materials used to train a detective who shot and killed a man in Harlan County, and Ward shared the presentation with Manual RedEye.
One slide, titled “Violence of Action,” in addition to imploring officers to be “ruthless killer[s],” instructs troopers to have “a mindset void of emotion” and to “meet violence with greater violence.”
A line from Adolf Hitler’s fascist and anti-Semitic manifesto, Mein Kampf, is featured in the slide: “the very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence.”
The presentation also links to a Hitler page on Goodreads, a database of quotes and books.
Two other slides quoting Hitler bring his total to three, making him the most quoted person in the presentation.
In a statement emailed to RedEye reporters, KSP spokesperson Lieutenant Joshua Lawson wrote, “The quotes are used for their content and relevance to the topic addressed in the presentation. The presentation touches on several aspects of service, selflessness, and moral guidance. All of these topics go to the fundamentals of law enforcement such as treating everyone equally, service to the public, and being guided by the law.”
In a separate email, Lawson also stated that the presentation seems to be seven years old and appears to have been made by an instructor at the academy. It is not clear how long the presentation was used, or if it is still used. (Editor’s note: According to a statement received after publication from Morgan Hall, the Communications Director for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, the presentation was not used after 2013.)
Although the presentation also features quotes from a variety of other sources including Sun Tzu and Albert Einstein, Dr. Jack Glaser —a professor at the University of California Berkeley who studies police practices — found the Hitler quotes inexcusable.
“Hitler is, justifiably, the archetype of a bad person with the worst, inhumane morals. It’s controversial enough to quote him when trying to illustrate a point about genocidal despots. Quoting him in the manner that these trainings do —prescriptively —is unfathomable,” Glaser wrote in an email to RedEye reporters.
The training materials are coming to light during a national discussion about systemic racism and the role of police in communities, a debate centered on Kentucky after Louisville Metro Police Department officers shot Breonna Taylor in March.
Since 2018, KSP troopers have committed at least 16 fatal shootings according to a Washington Post database of police shootings, the most of any police force in the state. Troopers were not wearing body cameras during any of the shootings.
During the same timeframe, the Louisville Metro Police Department, the largest police force in the state, killed 15 people, including Taylor.
The outlook for the pandemic continues to worsen, and many areas of the United States are experiencing their worst weeks yet. The country reported a record of more than 500,000 new coronavirus cases in the past week.
It’s not just a few areas driving the surge, as was the case early on. Half of U.S. counties saw new cases peak during the past month. Almost a third saw a record in the past week.
In the Upper Midwest and Mountain West, records are being smashed almost daily, and in some counties as much as 5 percent of the population has tested positive for the virus to date.
Some records come with an asterisk. With less widespread testing capacity in the spring, cases went undercounted then compared with now.
And in some less populous places, a record number is not necessarily a very high one. Orleans County, Vt., for example, saw eight cases in the past week — a record for the rural county of about 27,000 people on the Canadian border, but hardly a severe outbreak.
Taylor County, Fla., a Gulf Coast county of similar size, had 32 cases in the past week, four times as many as Orleans but far fewer than the record 600 new cases it had during the first week of August.
Yet many parts of the Sun Belt that were hot spots over the summer continue to record substantial numbers of new cases each day, even if they are falling short of their summer peaks.
And other critical metrics underscore the severity and acceleration of the current outbreak. Hospitalization data, which the Covid Tracking Project collects at the state level, shows that the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus reached record highs in almost half of states in recent weeks.
The recent surge in cases has not yet brought a similar surge in reported deaths, which can lag cases by up to several weeks. But already deaths are increasing in about half of states.
In the past month, about a third of U.S. counties hit a daily record of more deaths than any other time during the pandemic.
Immigration has been overshadowed by surging coronavirus case numbers and an economy shattered by a nearly yearlong pandemic, but it was central to Trump's rise to power in the Republican Party, and Miller has been a driving force for the administration's often controversial policies to crack down on illegal migration and erect hurdles for aspiring legal immigrants.
Miller has spearheaded an immigration policy that critics describe as cruel, racist and antithetical to American values as a nation of immigrants. He scoffs at those claims, insisting that his only priority is to protect the safety and wages of Americans.
And he said he intends to stay on to see the agenda through in a second term if Trump is re-elected.
In the near term, Miller wouldn't commit to lifting the freeze on new green cards and visas that's set to expire at the end of the year, saying it would be "entirely contingent" on governmental analysis that factors in the state of the job market.
Asked whether he would support reinstating the controversial "zero tolerance" policy that led to families' being separated, Miller said the Trump administration is "100 percent committed to a policy of family unity," but he described the policy as one that would keep families together in immigration detention by changing what is known as the Flores settlement agreement.
Over the past year, the administration has sought to amend the Flores agreement, which says children can't be held over 20 days in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention. If it succeeds, immigrant families could be detained indefinitely as they await their day in immigration court.
On Trump's watch, asylum grants have plummeted. Miller wants to keep it that way. He said a second-term Trump administration would seek to expand "burden-sharing" deals with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that cut off pathways to the U.S. for asylum-seekers.
"The president would like to expand that to include the rest of the world," Miller said. "And so if you create safe third partners in other continents and other countries and regions, then you have the ability to share the burden of asylum-seekers on a global basis."
"Another major priority with a big contrast is going to be really cracking down aggressively on sanctuary cities," Miller said.
He noted that the administration has withheld some grants to sanctuary cities. In a second term, he said, it would continue the battle with two new initiatives.
First, Miller said, Trump would push for legislation filed by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., which would punish jurisdictions that refuse to turn over arrested people who are in the U.S. illegally to ICE for deportation. Second, Trump would go a step further with a law to "outlaw the practice," thereby making it mandatory for authorities to turn those migrants over to the feds.
Miller said another priority would be "building on and expanding the framework that we've created with the travel ban, in terms of raising the standard for screening and vetting for admission to the United States."
That includes enhanced screening methods and more information-sharing among agencies to vet applicants seeking admission into the country. The U.S. already looks for ties to terrorism and extremist groups. Miller wants to go further by vetting the "ideological sympathies or leanings" of visa applicants to gauge their potential for recruitment by radicals.
That may include changing the interview process, adding interviews or talking to people close to applicants about their beliefs.
"That's going to be a major priority," he said. "It's going to require a whole government effort. It's going to require building a very elaborate and very complex screening mechanism."
Miller said a second-term Trump administration would finalize efforts to curtail use of guest-worker programs like H-1B visas, including by eliminating the lottery system used in the process when applications exceed the annual quota and by giving priority to those being offered the highest wages.
He said Trump would pursue a "points-based entry system" for American visa grants aimed at admitting only those who "can contribute the most to job creation and economic opportunity" while preventing "displacement of U.S. workers."
The architect of Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy, senior adviser Stephen Miller, is said to have a drawer full of executive orders ready to be signed in “shock and awe” style if Trump is re-elected.
The former homeland security department chief of staff Miles Taylor said this wishlist was reserved for the second term because it included policies that were too unpopular for a president seeking re-election.
This comes as no surprise to those who have watched and worried as legal pathways to US immigration shut under Trump, and who wonder not just about four more years of him as president, but also about four more years with Miller at his side.
The 35-year-old has managed to keep his position as a senior adviser to the president after being exposed for having an affinity for white nationalism and becoming synonymous with unpopular Trump administration policies such as family separation – when thousands of children were taken away from their parents at the southern border to deter would-be migrants. Three years later, more than 500 kids are still yet to be reunited with their parents.
Jean Guerrero, the author of the Miller biography Hatemonger, told the Guardian: “There’s a number of things they have been cautious about because of the legal and political risks in the first term and I think that in a second term you would see Stephen Miller get much freer rein when it comes to his wishlist of items.”
Those items are expected to include attempting to eliminate birthright citizenship, making the US citizenship test more difficult to pass, ending the program which protects people from deportation when there is a crisis is their country (Temporary Protected Status) and slashing refugee admissions even further, to zero.
Friday, October 30, 2020
Texans have already cast more ballots in the presidential election than they did during all of 2016, an unprecedented surge of early voting in a state that was once the country’s most reliably Republican, but may now be drifting toward battleground status.
More than 9 million ballots have been cast as of Friday morning in the nation’s second most-populous state, exceeding the 8,969,226 cast in 2016, according to an Associated Press tally of early votes from data provided by Texas officials.
Texas is the first state to hit the milestone. This year’s numbers were aided by Democratic activists challenging in court for, and winning, the right to extend early voting by one week amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas also offers only limited vote-by-mail options when compared to the rest of the country, meaning casting in-person, early ballots is the primary way to vote for people who don’t want to line up and do so on Election Day.
Voters in Texas do not register by party affiliation, so no one can be sure until the ballots are counted whether one party or the other will benefit from the surge in turnout.
Still, the fact that the state exceeded its entire vote total for the past presidential cycle with hours still to go in its early voting period which ends Friday, and before millions more people are likely to vote on Election Day, hints at a potential electoral sea change.
For Democrats, anything different is likely positive. The party hasn’t won a state office in Texas since 1994 — the nation’s longest political losing streak — nor seen one of its presidential nominees carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The party now believes it has a chance to seize control of the state House, flip as many as six congressional seats and a Senate seat.
President Donald Trump carried Texas against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a comfortable 9 points, even though that was the smallest margin since Republican Bob Dole beat Democratic President Bill Clinton by 5 points in 1996.
Federal agents on Thursday arrested two men, including the self-proclaimed leader of the Base, a white supremacist group, as part of a continuing crackdown on extremism in Michigan three weeks after the FBI said it thwarted a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A team of FBI agents arrested Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe, the self-proclaimed leader of the Base, and Alfred Gorman, 35, of Taylor, during a pair of raids Thursday, including at a rural farmhouse in Bad Axe, 100 miles north of Detroit.
According to Michigan Attorney General Dana, the 3 1/2-acre farm was being converted into a “hate camp” for members of the group to prepare to overthrow the government, according to the criminal case, which also accused Base leaders of encouraging others to harass a Washtenaw County family online.
Watkins and Gorman are linked to a December incident in Dexter in which a local family was terrorized by the men, who tried to intimidate a husband and wife and shared their address with members of the Base, Nessel said in a statement.
The developments continue a string of arrests, raids and operations targeting far-right, anti-government extremists and white supremacists this month. That includes accused members of the Whitmer kidnapping plot and a shootout in suburban Detroit between FBI agents and a Madison Heights man who died 28 years after his family became embroiled in the infamous Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho.
“I think this shows the range of bad actors that are operating in the United States, which should be a cause of concern,” said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Nessel's office charged the men with several felonies, including gang membership, a 20-year felony, using a computer to commit a crime and unlawful posting of a message. The charges were filed in Washtenaw County District Court, the location of the alleged Dexter incident.
Both suspects were lodged in the Washtenaw County Jail pending arraignment.
“Using tactics of intimidation to incite fear and violence constitutes criminal behavior,” Nessel said. “We cannot allow dangerous activities to reach their goal of inflicting violence and harm on the public. I am proud to work alongside law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels to safeguard the public’s safety from these serious threats.”
Donald Trump didn't just do millions in foreign business with Russia and Saudi Arabia, he did it with Turkey as well, and the "illegal and immoral quid pro quo with a foreign leader" angle that got Trump impeached from Ukraine is even more obvious with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially since the NY Times got a hold of Trump's taxes.
Geoffrey S. Berman was outraged.
The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Mr. Berman had traveled to Washington in June 2019 to discuss a particularly delicate case with Attorney General William P. Barr and some of his top aides: a criminal investigation into Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank suspected of violating U.S. sanctions law by funneling billions of dollars of gold and cash to Iran.
For months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had been pressing President Trump to quash the investigation, which threatened not only the bank but potentially members of Mr. Erdogan’s family and political party. When Mr. Berman sat down with Mr. Barr, he was stunned to be presented with a settlement proposal that would give Mr. Erdogan a key concession.
Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Berman to allow the bank to avoid an indictment by paying a fine and acknowledging some wrongdoing. In addition, the Justice Department would agree to end investigations and criminal cases involving Turkish and bank officials who were allied with Mr. Erdogan and suspected of participating in the sanctions-busting scheme.
Mr. Berman didn’t buy it.
The bank had the right to try to negotiate a settlement. But his prosecutors were still investigating key individuals, including some with ties to Mr. Erdogan, and believed the scheme had helped finance Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“This is completely wrong,” Mr. Berman later told lawyers in the Justice Department, according to people who were briefed on the proposal and his response. “You don’t grant immunity to individuals unless you are getting something from them — and we wouldn’t be here.”
It was not the first time Mr. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, had fended off attempts by top Justice Department political appointees to disrupt the Halkbank investigation.
Six months earlier, Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general who ran the department from November 2018 until Mr. Barr arrived in February 2019, rejected a request from Mr. Berman for permission to file criminal charges against the bank, two lawyers involved in the investigation said. Mr. Whitaker blocked the move shortly after Mr. Erdogan repeatedly pressed Mr. Trump in a series of conversations in November and December 2018 to resolve the Halkbank matter.
The president’s apparent eagerness to please Mr. Erdogan has drawn scrutiny for years. So has the scale and intensity of the lobbying effort by Turkey on issues like its demand for the extradition of one of Mr. Erdogan’s political rivals, a Turkish religious leader living in self-imposed exile in the United States. Mr. Erdogan had a big political stake in the outcome, because the case had become a major embarrassment for him in Turkey.
At the White House, Mr. Trump’s handling of the matter became troubling even to some senior officials at the time.
The president was discussing an active criminal case with the authoritarian leader of a nation in which Mr. Trump does business; he reported receiving at least $2.6 million in net income from operations in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, according to tax records obtained by The New York Times.
And Mr. Trump’s sympathetic response to Mr. Erdogan was especially jarring because it involved accusations that the bank had undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of economically isolating Iran, a centerpiece of his Middle East plan.
Former White House officials said they came to fear that the president was open to swaying the criminal justice system to advance a transactional and ill-defined agenda of his own.
“He would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader,” John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, said in a recent interview. “In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road.”
In the case of Halkbank, it was only after an intense foreign policy clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan over Syria last fall that the United States would proceed to lodge charges against the bank, though not against any additional individuals. Yet the administration’s bitterness over Mr. Berman’s unwillingness to go along with Mr. Barr’s proposal would linger, and ultimately contribute to Mr. Berman’s dismissal.
The Justice Department initially declined to comment, but after this article was published online, a department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, provided a statement emphasizing that Mr. Barr had backed the decision last fall to indict the bank.
“The attorney general instructed S.D.N.Y. to move ahead with charges and approved the charges brought,” she said, referring to the federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
- More than 2 million households across the Deep South are without power as Hurricane Zeta came ashore over New Orleans as a Category 2 storm and ripped a path of heavy rain to New Jersey.
- In a 2-1 decision, the 8th Circuit tossed Minnesota's order to extend by-mail ballot deadline, ordering any ballots received after Election Day to be set aside.
- More than 80 million Americans have already voted as the election heads into the final weekend of early voting, total turnout could top twice that number nationally.
- The White House is not expected to renew a no-sail order for America's cruise lines Saturday as the industry says it will protect passengers from COVID-19, experts fear the industry is not ready.
- The Wisconsin GOP says hackers stole $2.3 million from the Trump campaign's state fund, state GOP chair Andrew Hitt says the party contacted the FBI last week to investigate.
Thursday, October 29, 2020
President Trump’s campaign in the crucial battleground of Pennsylvania is pursuing a three-pronged strategy that would effectively suppress mail-in votes in the state, moving to stop the counting of absentee votes before Election Day, pushing to limit how late mail-in ballots can be accepted and intimidating Pennsylvanians trying to vote early.
Election officials and Democrats in Pennsylvania say that the Trump effort is now in full swing after a monthslong push by the president’s campaign and Republican allies to undermine faith in the electoral process in a state seen as one of the election’s most pivotal, where Mr. Trump trails Joseph R. Biden Jr. by about six percentage points, according to The Upshot’s polling average.
Mail-in votes in Pennsylvania and other swing states are expected to skew heavily toward Democrats. The state is one of a handful in which, by law, mail-in votes cannot be counted until Election Day, and the Trump campaign has leaned on Republican allies who control the Legislature to prevent state election officials from bending those rules to accommodate a pandemic-driven avalanche of absentee ballots, as many other states have already done.
At the same time, the campaign has pushed litigation to curtail how late mail-in votes can be accepted, as part of a flurry of lawsuits in local, state and federal courts challenging myriad voting rules and procedures. On Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court refused to hear a fast-tracked plea from Pennsylvania Republicans to block a three-day extension of the deadline for receiving absentee ballots. But Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat who is Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, advised counties to segregate ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day, as the issue remains before the court.
The Trump campaign has also dispatched its officials to early voting sites, videotaped voters and even pressed election administrators in the Philadelphia area to stop people from delivering more than one ballot to a drop box.
The Trump campaign’s on-the-ground efforts in Philadelphia have already drawn a rebuke from the state attorney general, who warned that the campaign’s foot soldiers risked being charged with voter intimidation. But the Trump campaign has defied local leaders and is running a similar operation in Delaware County, one of the suburban “collar” counties around Philadelphia that have become increasingly Democratic since the 2016 election.
The campaign’s strategy is backed up by public statements from the president, who barnstormed the state on Monday and repeatedly made false claims about the security of voting in Pennsylvania along with ominous warnings.
“A lot of strange things happening in Philadelphia,” he said during a stop in Allentown. “We’re watching you, Philadelphia. We’re watching at the highest level.”
The president’s comments drew an angry response on Wednesday from Lawrence S. Krasner, the city’s district attorney.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to suppress votes amid a global pandemic fueled by their disregard for human life will not be tolerated in the birthplace of American democracy,” Mr. Krasner said. “Philadelphians from a diversity of political opinions believe strongly in the rule of law, in fair and free elections, and in a democratic system of government. We will not be cowed or ruled by a lawless, power-hungry despot. Some folks learned that the hard way in the 1700s.”
The playbook that Republicans could put to use in Pennsylvania this year was partially developed in 2000, in the aftermath of the Presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. That year, the election was close, and the contest came down to Florida, where the candidates were separated by only a few hundred votes. After the initial count, a swarm of attorneys and poll watchers descended on the state to catalogue small mishaps that might serve as grounds to challenge the results. Most notably, they found that some voters had failed to fully perforate their punch-card ballots, creating what came to be known as “hanging chads.” Legal disputes about whether to continue tallying ballots, and which to count, wound their way to the Supreme Court, which eventually halted further recounts, leaving Bush in the lead. Gore conceded on December 13, 2000. But, even if the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened, Gore still might have lost the state. In Tallahassee, the Republican legislature had already begun the process of choosing a set of Republican electors who were going to vote for Bush regardless. This year, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan all have conditions that would allow for such an eventuality. (G.O.P. lawmakers around the country have denied any such plans. Andrew Hitt, the G.O.P. chair in Wisconsin, recently said that he’d heard of “no such discussion.”) But Pennsylvania seems most vulnerable. “Harrisburg in 2020 could be Tallahassee in 2000,” Ari Mittleman, a political analyst with Keep Our Republic, told me.
There are many issues with Pennsylvania’s election infrastructure that could leave it exposed. In 2018, the Department of State ordered all counties to introduce new voting machines with paper trails. The change is likely to cause confusion for voters and poll workers, as well as mechanical mishaps. During an election in 2019, a failure to properly calibrate new voting machines led to large-scale dysfunction in Northampton County, in the northeastern part of the state. If that kind of error is sufficiently widespread during the 2020 election, it could give Republicans an opening to contest the vote. Human error could also cause trouble. During the primaries, Erika Bickford, an elections judge in Lehigh County, was charged with interfering with ballots; she claimed that she was darkening the bubbles and trimming ballots so that they could fit into a scanner. Such a mishap could also lead to votes being challenged. “Elections are run by human beings,” Adam Bonin, a Democratic election lawyer, said. “When you’re dealing with millions of ballots, what you have to hope for is that there are always enough eyes on a question, and levels of review, to make sure that things are as standardized as possible.”
Republicans could also exploit the state’s mail-in voting system. The pandemic has led people to vote by mail in unprecedented numbers: to date, Pennsylvania has sent out more than 2.6 million ballots, and gotten back five hundred and eighteen thousand. Mail-in voting was only introduced to the state this year, and all sixty-seven counties have different procedures for receiving and counting mailed ballots, which is itself worrisome: in 2000, procedural discrepancies between counties served as part of the basis for Bush v. Gore, the lawsuit that challenged the validity of the election results. In Pennsylvania, under-resourced election boards, inexperienced voters, and exacting technical procedures could also introduce dysfunction into a system under strain. For example, in Allegheny County, the home of Pittsburgh, a printing mistake caused nearly twenty-nine thousand mail-in ballots to be sent out twice, and many voters aren’t certain which to complete. “I’m a lot less worried about voter fraud and suppression than I am about voter-system failure,” Charlie Dent, a former Republican representative from Pennsylvania, told me.
Any idiosyncrasy will come under intense scrutiny. This month, the Trump campaign called for fifty thousand supporters, a group dubbed the Army for Trump, to descend on polling places and the offices of election officials in Pennsylvania and other states and observe voting. The tactic seems designed to intimidate voters, as well as to encourage allegations of voter fraud. (The effort is led by Mike Roman, who has a history of challenging votes on behalf of Republicans: in 1993, he helped overturn the results of a local election by convincing a judge that there were irregularities among the ballots of Latino voters.) So far, the plan has been stymied: earlier this month, a federal court in western Pennsylvania upheld a provision that banned out-of-county poll watchers. “Corruption!!!” Trump tweeted in response. “Must have a fair Election.” But even without Trump’s “army,” right-wing attorneys and local poll watchers are likely to surveil ballot-drop-off locations, looking for ways to invalidate votes. (Such surveillance occurred in the primary.) Dropping off a ballot for someone else, unless the voter is disabled or hospitalized, is called ballot harvesting and can cause the vote to be invalidated. In an article in The Atlantic, Barton Gellman detailed an internal memo written by J. Matthew Wolfe, a Republican operative and attorney in Pennsylvania, who catalogued other problems that he had noticed with mail-in ballots in the primaries, and noted that Republicans could exploit these issues in the general election. Some voters, for example, had appended partial signatures, or had forgotten to sign entirely. (On Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots cannot be invalidated because a voter’s signature does not match the one on file.)
Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states that require a mail-in ballot to be sealed within a second “secrecy” envelope, another provision demanded last year by state Republicans, which was recently upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If a ballot is received without the secrecy envelope, it is termed a naked ballot and is discarded. In the state’s primary, six per cent of ballots were thrown out because they did not arrive in that second, sealed envelope. A recent investigation conducted by “Frontline,” USA Today Network, and the Columbia Journalism School showed that, nationwide, naked ballots could lead to the rejection of as many as 2.15 million votes in the Presidential election, a number equal to the population of New Mexico. Lisa Deeley, the Democratic chairwoman of the Philadelphia city commissioner’s office, warned that, in Pennsylvania, a hundred thousand votes could be invalidated. (In 2016, Trump won the state by only forty-four thousand votes.)
More Democrats than Republicans have requested mail-in ballots in the state, by a margin of two-to-one. This means that in-person returns on Election Day are almost certain to favor Trump, an advantage that he will likely exploit, however falsely, to claim victory. “There’s value in controlling the early narrative,” Christopher Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College, told me. “Republicans can start building public consensus about what happened.” It also means that subsequent efforts to contest mail-in ballots will primarily invalidate Democratic votes. Trump has a history of calling for mail-in ballots to be thrown out mid-count. In the middle of the 2018 Florida governor’s race, he tweeted, “An honest vote count is no longer possible—ballots massively infected. Must Go With Election Night!”
Less than a week out from Election Day and President Donald Trump is playing catch-up. In 2016, he won 30 states (and Maine's 2nd Congressional District) and their 306 electoral votes. Today, just 20 states, worth 125 electoral votes, are safely in his column. Former Vice President Joe Biden is holding 24 states worth 290 electoral votes in his column.
To win the election, Trump will need to win every state we currently have in the Toss Up column: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Maine's 2nd CD, as well as the newest addition, Texas. Even then, Trump would be 22 electoral votes short of 270. He would need to win at least two of the seven states currently sitting in Lean Democrat: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. Trump carried all but Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire in 2016.
At this point, Ohio and Maine's 2nd District are probably the most promising for Trump, followed by Texas and Iowa. If he were to win all of those, he'd be at 188 electoral votes, still 82 votes shy of 270. Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are pure Toss Ups with Biden ahead by anywhere from 1 to 2 points in those states.
Even if Trump were to win all of those states, he'd then need to move into the Lean Democratic territory where Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania offer the best opportunities. If you just looked at polling averages, Arizona would be the best opportunity for Trump. Biden has a small — but steady — 3 point lead. Even so, given Trump's unpopularity among suburban voters, it's hard to see how he makes up needed ground in Maricopa (Phoenix).
In Wisconsin, a huge spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has led state health officials to plead with residents to leave home only when absolutely necessary. That COVID is the dominating issue in these final days of the campaign is a problem for the president. Charles Franklin, the Marquette University Law School poll director, told the AP recently that "approval of his handling of COVID is the next-strongest predictor of vote choice, behind voters' party affiliation and their overall approval of Trump's performance as president." In the most recent Marquette poll in early October Trump had an anemic 41 percent approval rating on his handling of the virus.
Picking up Arizona and its 11 electoral votes would get Trump to 259 electoral votes, 11 shy of 270. Picking up Wisconsin (10 EV) or Minnesota, where the Trump campaign is spending time and effort (10 EV), would leave both candidates stuck at 269.
This is where Pennsylvania becomes even more critical.
In Pennsylvania, the conventional wisdom, as well as the Trump campaign, see a tightening race. The FiveThirtyEight polling average puts Biden ahead by 5 points. But, congressional district polling paints a different — and more difficult — picture for the president. These polls find Biden expanding Clinton's margins in suburban Philadelphia, but also find Trump failing to put up the same kind of numbers he did in 2016 in central, western and northeastern Pennsylvania.
But, while Trump has a narrow path to 270, Biden is looking at several different pathways to 270. Biden can afford to lose states in Toss Up like Georgia, North Carolina or Iowa and still have plenty of different options to get to an electoral college victory. Of course, all three are hosting competitive Senate races that could tip the balance of power in the upper chamber. Notably, Biden is spending the final week of the campaign traveling to Iowa and Georgia.
Texas is a state that Biden doesn't need to win, but it is clear that it's more competitive than ever. Texas' shift from Lean Republican to Toss Up shouldn't come as a surprise. Recent polling in the state — both public and private - shows a 2-4 point race. That's pretty much in line with the hotly contested 2018 Senate race in the state where Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Rep. Beto O'Rourke 51 percent to 48 percent.
President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner boasted in mid-April about how the President had cut out the doctors and scientists advising him on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, comments that came as more than 40,000 Americans already had died from the virus, which was ravaging New York City.
In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was "getting the country back from the doctors" in what he called a "negotiated settlement." Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the "panic phase" and "pain phase" of the pandemic and that the country was at the "beginning of the comeback phase."
"That doesn't mean there's not still a lot of pain and there won't be pain for a while, but that basically was, we've now put out rules to get back to work," Kushner said. "Trump's now back in charge. It's not the doctors."
The statement reflected a political strategy. Instead of following the health experts' advice, Trump and Kushner were focused on what would help the President on Election Day. By their calculations, Trump would be the "open-up president."
CNN has obtained audio of two separate interviews with Kushner, which were conducted in April and May as part of Woodward's reporting for his book "Rage." In the wide-ranging conversations, Kushner described the President's relationship with his public health advisers in adversarial terms.
- In a pair of 5-3 decisions the US Supreme Court has once again passed on PA Republicans wanting to cut off counting ballots received after Election Day, and allowed NC to continue to count them.
- Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas are all reeling after a two-day ice storm that has cut power to more than half-million people.
- Germany and France are joining the growing number of European Union countries going into another round of COVID-19 lockdowns as the virus is once again rampaging across the continent.
- Government pandemic expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says a COVID-19 vaccine won't be ready until at least the new year as clinical testing continues.
- Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart will return to television with an hour-long weekly current affairs show on Apple TV+.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Oath Keepers militia leader Stewart Rhodes said members of his militia will be at polling locations on Election Day to “protect” Trump voters during an appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ program.
After making that claim, Rhodes made a number of unhinged statements, including saying Oath Keepers would follow directives from President Donald Trump to take members of the “deep state” into custody and “do what we have to do,” that Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act before the election, that Oath Keepers will “be in range” of Washington D.C., to stop a “Benghazi-style” attack on the White House on election night, and that a war will have to be fought against Democrats on the West Coast who are “bought” by the Chinese government. Rhodes also hyped the possibility of a second civil war where his “battle-hardened” supporters kill the “street soldiers” and “command and control” of “the radical left.” He later claimed the United States is already in a civil war because “you have sitting politicians who are part of the enemy’s ranks.”
Disturbingly, Rhodes telegraphed how he will interpret election results, saying that he would consider a win by Democratic nominee Joe Biden illegitimate and evidence the election had been stolen, presaging how he and his militia might react to that outcome.
Rhodes’ Oath Keepers militia, which is comprised of “former law enforcement officials and military veterans,” is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.” The Los Angeles Times reported Rhodes has indicated that some Oath Keepers “have signed up as poll watchers, while others plan to monitor the election armed and ‘undercover,’ drawing their weapons if needed.”
During an October 27 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Rhodes said members of his militia are going to “stand up and protect people on Election Day” at the polls because opponents of Trump will be supposedly “coercing and threatening” his supporters as part of an effort by Democrats to steal the election.
By the time President Trump finished speaking to thousands of supporters at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield on Tuesday night and jetted away on Air Force One, the temperature had plunged to nearly freezing.
But as long lines of MAGA-clad attendees queued up for buses to take them to distant parking lots, it quickly became clear something was wrong.
The buses, the huge crowd soon learned, couldn’t navigate the jammed airport roads. For hours, attendees — including many elderly Trump supporters — stood in the cold, as police scrambled to help those most at-risk get to warmth.
At least seven people were taken to hospitals, according to Omaha Scanner, which monitors official radio traffic. Police and fire authorities didn’t immediately return messages from The Washington Post early Wednesday and declined to provide reporters on the scene with precise numbers of how many needed treatment.
The Trump campaign said it had provided enough buses but traffic on the two-lane road outside the airport was throttled to one direction after the rally, tweeted Aaron Sanderford, a political reporter at the Omaha World-Herald. The campaign didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Post early on Wednesday.
The confusion and the freezing weather added to the health risks that accompany every Trump rally during the novel coronavirus pandemic. In Omaha, an estimated crowd of more than 6,000 people jammed into risers outside the airport. Though the campaign checked temperatures and provided masks, many people didn’t wear them, the World-Herald reported.
In the lead-up to the rally, police warned that parking lots were full. With buses taking a half-hour to ferry people more than three miles away to the rally site, hundreds of attendees were late to get inside, reported Iowa Starting Line, a liberal news site.
After Trump’s speech, where he promised “we’re making that final turn” on covid-19 in a state where positivity rates exceed 20 percent, per the World-Herald, Trump flew away on Air Force One around 9 p.m. Attendees began lining up for buses to return to their cars.
By nearly 10:30 p.m., though, they were still waiting.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under investigation for potentially violating a federal law that forbids federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or while inside federal buildings over his address to the Republican convention in August.
The Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency, launched a probe into Pompeo's speech to the Republican National Convention while on a taxpayer funded trip to Jerusalem on August 25, according to two House Democrats.
It is the second investigation into potential Hatch Act violations that the OSC has opened into Pompeo, whose use of resources and decision-making at the State Department, along with his wife's, have triggered a series of investigations by the agency's inspector general.
"Our offices have confirmed that the Office of Special Counsel has launched a probe into potential Hatch Act violations tied to Secretary Pompeo's speech to the Republican National Convention," Rep. Ellot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote in a joint statement.
"This information comes on the heels of reporting that OSC is also looking into Secretary Pompeo's stated commitment to rush out more of Hillary Clinton's emails by Election Day and as the Secretary has misused State Department resources on his speech tour of swing states," the Democrats said.
"As we get closer to both this year's election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions," the lawmakers said.
The State Department did not return requests for comment.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers won Game 6 3-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays to take the World Series four games to two, it's the first championship for the Dodgers since 1988.
- CBS has hired 24-hour security for 60 Minutes anchor Lesley Stahl after receiving "credible" death threats in the wake of Sunday's interview with Donald Trump.
- NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere was sentenced Tuesday to 120 years in prison and a $1.75 million fine after his conviction earlier this year on multiple sex trafficking crimes.
- Early voting in the US has already exceeded half of 2016's total turnout, according to the US Elections Project tracking numbers, more than 70 million ballots have already been cast.
- Pharma giant Pfizer says it will not have preliminary COVID-19 vaccine data ready before the end of the month as planned, CEO Albert Bouria is asking Americans to be "very patient".
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said Black people must “want to be successful” in order for his father-in-law’s policies to help them.
“One thing we’ve seen in a lot of the Black community, which is mostly Democrat, is that President Trump’s policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about,” Kushner said Monday on “Fox & Friends.” “But he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.”
Kushner’s remarks drew criticism on Twitter, where Democrats said he was implying that many Black people don’t want to be successful.
Trump’s campaign believes he’s drawing more Black support for his re-election than in his 2016 run, thanks to policies including a law he signed reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, increased spending for historically Black colleges and universities and new tax benefits for investors in low-income communities.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement saying “internet trolls” had taken Kushner’s remarks out of context.
“From criminal justice reform and record HBCU funding to record low Black unemployment and record high income increases, there is simply no disputing that President Trump accomplished what Democrats merely talked about,” McEnany said.
Trump lost among Black voters by about 82 percentage points in 2016 but has closed the gap in support to about 71 points this year, according to an analysis of polling data FiveThirtyEight.com published last week. He’s improved particularly with Black men, cutting his disadvantage from 72 to 57 percentage points.
Police officers fatally shot a 27-year-old Black man armed with a knife during a confrontation Monday afternoon in West Philadelphia, an incident that quickly raised tensions in the neighborhood and sparked a standoff that lasted deep into the night.
Late Monday into early Tuesday, police struggled to respond to vandalism and looting along the commercial corridor of 52nd Street, an area that was the scene of clashes between police and protestors earlier this summer. At least one police vehicle was set on fire Monday night and destroyed
By morning, an officer was hospitalized in stable condition with a broken leg after being struck by a pickup truck, police said. About 29 other officers suffered mostly minor injuries from being struck by rocks, bricks, and other projectiles, police said in a preliminary report.
Authorities detained 10 people overnight near 55nd and Pine Street, police said, and those people were set to be released pending possible charges of assaulting police or rioting. Police said officers arrested about 20 people in relation to looting at various stores in West Philadelphia, University City, Overbrook Park, and Center City, some of which were not near the protest.
Hours earlier, shortly before 4 p.m., police said, two officers responded to the 6100 block of Locust Street after a report of a man with a knife. Family members identified him as Walter Wallace Jr.
A video posted on social media showed Wallace walking toward the officers and police backing away. The video swings briefly out of view at the moment the gunfire erupts but he appeared to be multiple feet from them when they fired numerous shots.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Eric Gripp said the officers had ordered Wallace to drop the weapon, and he “advanced towards the officers.” Gripp said investigators are reviewing footage of what happened. Both officers were wearing body cameras.
He said both officers fired “several times.” After the man was shot, he fell to the ground, and Gripp said one of the officers drove him to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where he died.
Walter Wallace Sr., the man’s father, said his son appeared to have been shot 10 times.
- Senate Republicans have confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court with a 52-48 vote, all Democrats and Susan Collins of Maine voted no.
- Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Gen. JH Binford Peay has resigned from leading the military college after Black students and graduates shared incidents of racism on campus.
- In a 5-3 decision, the US Supreme Court has sided with Wisconsin Republicans to block a request by Democrats to extend the state's vote-by-mail ballot acceptance deadline past Election Day.
- British PM Boris Johnson is facing a revolt by northern Tory lawmakers demanding a plan to end the lockdown in the UK, along with a major economic recovery plan for jobs and businesses.
- A new study finds link preview messages on your mobile device messaging apps could be major security risks for your data, especially Facebook Messenger and Instagram.
Monday, October 26, 2020
By early October, even people inside the White House believed President Trump’s re-election campaign needed a desperate rescue mission. So three men allied with the president gathered at a house in McLean, Va., to launch one.
The host was Arthur Schwartz, a New York public relations man close to President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. The guests were a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, and a former deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Herschmann knew the subject matter they were there to discuss. He had represented Mr. Trump during the impeachment trial early this year, and he tried to deflect allegations against the president in part by pointing to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. More recently, he has been working on the White House payroll with a hazy portfolio, listed as “a senior adviser to the president,” and remains close to Jared Kushner.
The three had pinned their hopes for re-electing the president on a fourth guest, a straight-shooting Wall Street Journal White House reporter named Michael Bender. They delivered the goods to him there: a cache of emails detailing Hunter Biden’s business activities, and, on speaker phone, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s named Tony Bobulinski. Mr. Bobulinski was willing to go on the record in The Journal with an explosive claim: that Joe Biden, the former vice president, had been aware of, and profited from, his son’s activities. The Trump team left believing that The Journal would blow the thing open and their excitement was conveyed to the president.
The Journal had seemed to be the perfect outlet for a story the Trump advisers believed could sink Mr. Biden’s candidacy. Its small-c conservatism in reporting means the work of its news pages carries credibility across the industry. And its readership leans further right than other big news outlets. Its Washington bureau chief, Paul Beckett, recently remarked at a virtual gathering of Journal reporters and editors that while he knows that the paper often delivers unwelcome news to the many Trump supporters who read it, The Journal should protect its unique position of being trusted across the political spectrum, two people familiar with the remarks said.
As the Trump team waited with excited anticipation for a Journal exposé, the newspaper did its due diligence: Mr. Bender and Mr. Beckett handed the story off to a well-regarded China correspondent, James Areddy, and a Capitol Hill reporter who had followed the Hunter Biden story, Andrew Duehren. Mr. Areddy interviewed Mr. Bobulinski. They began drafting an article.
Then things got messy. Without warning his notional allies, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now a lawyer for President Trump, burst onto the scene with the tabloid version of the McLean crew’s carefully laid plot. Mr. Giuliani delivered a cache of documents of questionable provenance — but containing some of the same emails — to The New York Post, a sister publication to The Journal in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Mr. Giuliani had been working with the former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who also began leaking some of the emails to favored right-wing outlets. Mr. Giuliani’s complicated claim that the emails came from a laptop Hunter Biden had abandoned, and his refusal to let some reporters examine the laptop, cast a pall over the story — as did The Post’s reporting, which alleged but could not prove that Joe Biden had been involved in his son’s activities.
There is no evidence in the records that Mr. Biden was involved in or profited from the joint venture.
Encrypted messages, emails and other documents examined by The New York Times do not show Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing any role for the former vice president in the project.
Mr. Biden’s tax returns, which he has released, show no income from any such venture. There is nothing illegal about doing business in China or with Chinese partners; Mr. Trump long pursued deals in China, had a partnership with a government-controlled enterprise and maintained a corporate bank account there.
The Biden campaign has rejected all assertions that the former vice president had any role in the negotiations over the deal or any stake in it.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said the former vice president never had any stake in the project. “Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever,” he said.
At the second presidential debate on Thursday, Mr. Biden said, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life.”
The messages produced by Mr. Bobulinski appear to reflect a meeting between him, the former vice president and James Biden in May 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif. The messages do not make clear what was discussed.
Mr. Bates did not answer questions about Mr. Bobulinski’s claim that he met with the former vice president. But Mr. Bates said the Chinese deal never was discussed by Mr. Biden with members of his family. “He never had any conversations about these issues at all,” Mr. Bates said.
One email sent on May 13, 2017, by another member of the venture discusses how the various partners in the deal could theoretically split up the equity and makes reference to whether “the big guy” might get 10 percent. The document does not specify who this person is, saying only “10 held by H for the big guy ?”
Mr. Bobulinski has said the reference was clearly to the former vice president.
Mr. Bates said Mr. Biden “has never held stock in any such business arrangements nor has any family member or any other person ever held stock for him.”